Winning combination for love between Kerry and Argentina
Evan McAuliffe is a laid-back, zen Kerry man. Argentinian Diego Cabrera is a typical passionate Latino. It's a winning combination for them, both in business and personal life. Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin
Diego Cabrera hails from Argentina, so he knows the song Don't Cry for Me, Argentina pretty well, particularly because it's one of the first things Irish people say to him when he mentions his birthplace.
Diego says he smiles when they make that connection but, as can be imagined, after 20 years here, his smiles have become a bit thin. "At least they got the country right. Some people say, 'Really? You're from Argentina? I love Rio.' - which is in Brazil," Diego says with a laugh. "The other thing people always say is, 'Ah, Diego Maradona'. Actually, Evan did that the first time we met."
As chat-up lines go, it obviously wasn't very original, but it worked; Diego and his partner, Listowel man Evan McAuliffe, have been together since 1998 and now, as well as living together in their delightful apartment, they run their neighbourhood restaurant, Peperina, in Ranelagh's Dunville Avenue.
Diego is the chef/patron during the day, while Evan does front-of-house on the evenings they open - Thursday, Friday and Saturday - as well as all the marketing, interiors and administration. They set it up in 2012 and it's been a great success - yet both came to catering late-ish in life, particularly Evan; both are in their early 40s.
Diego, the son of an architect and an actress/theatre director, studied graphic design back home in Cordoba, but he never worked in that profession. Instead, he took off immediately for Europe. "I had this amazing idea about learning a new language and blending in with another country. Like most Argentinians, I have Italian heritage, so I went first to Rome. I love Rome," Diego enthuses in his delightful, accented English.
"And I spent one year there working on a campsite, and of course all the workers were from other countries, including Ireland. The Irish said, 'You must come to Galway'. I thought, 'Another language I could learn', so I said, 'Let's go to Ireland', and it was in Galway that I started working in restaurants."
Diego spent two years as the pizza chef in Fat Freddy's in Galway and that led to a bit of a cul-de-sac. "While I was in Galway I was an extra on a film, and the other actors said I should go to acting college," Diego says. "So I did a year in college in Dublin, but I continued to work in restaurants, particularly Elephant & Castle."
As it happened, Evan also tried acting college at one point in his career; it was one of many avenues he explored. After school, he did economics and sociology in UCC, but has no idea why he opted for those subjects. "I wanted to go to college; other than that, I didn't know what I wanted," Evan admits with a laugh. "I stuck it out, then I went to the Gaiety School of Acting for two years and tried a bit of that."
After the Gaiety, he joined the family firm, Spectra, and stayed 10 years until it closed; Spectra had dominated the photo-processing scene in Ireland for years until the digital revolution arrived. It was during this time that he and Diego met at a party in a club and Evan came up with his Diego Maradona line.
"Diego didn't know me, but I had seen him several times in the Elephant & Castle," Evan admits. Diego adds: "He told me that afterwards. Actually, he told me I had been rude to him. I was so busy that I could have been a little cold, but never rude."
Diego would hate to think he'd ever be rude, because he prides himself on the warm welcome in the restaurant where he serves up what he calls family food - pizzas, lasagnes, quiches, all baked on the premises. "Everything is home-baked, that's why it works - all the snacks, soups, cakes. It's very popular with the locals. Actually, that's why we open three nights, because local people asked us to," Diego says.
He adds that he has thought of nothing but the restaurant for the last two years since they opened. "I have such passion for food, for service. My friends in the business have told me: 'You will lose your friends if you want your business to succeed', and they are right. I am always there, even the waiters say, 'Diego, why don't you go home?' After two years, it is finally settling."
The restaurant name - Peperina - is actually the name of a herb in Argentina, and it was Diego's mother who suggested it when she was here on a visit. "We wanted a Spanish name, but not too obvious. She came up with Peperina - it was the first name that Diego and I didn't disagree on. At the restaurant we have a garden with herbs, so it works," Evan says.
Diego's family come to visit a lot and, indeed, on one such visit, his sister actually met an Irishman and is now married to him, so it means his parents, who are divorced, have two reasons for coming to Ireland. The couple have been on holidays to Argentina and Diego did always intend to go back home permanently; however, he realises it is unlikely now. "We thought about moving to Cordoba, which is the second city in Argentina," says Evan, adding with a laugh, "but I couldn't take the stress of all those Latin people. It's fine having one, but a whole country . . ."
Evan admits he's the low-key person in the couple, while Diego admits he can be a tad exuberant. Both agree it's a good combination, and while they have their disagreements, they combine their personal and business lives successfully and never go to bed without sorting out all arguments.
It helps that they do different shifts in the restaurant and that they live relatively close by, also in Dublin 6. Up to 2012, they lived in nearby Clonskeagh, which Evan talks about as if it were in the boondocks. "I was there for 15 years," he says. "I can't believe we lived in the suburbs for so long. Here is so convenient - near town, near Ranelagh village, everything."
They bought their apartment - which is on the second floor of a two-storey building - three years ago and promptly gutted it. "It was a black box," Diego says rather melodramatically, while Evan adds that it had no heating, no insulation, and it needed to be rewired. Evan oversaw the renovation work, including the installation of central heating, new windows and new floors. They have a communal courtyard and they also added a balcony to sit out on.
Evan did most of the interior decor - he has also done the interiors of Yindees, his father's restaurant in Kilkenny, and some hotels in the Kilkenny area. However, he credits Diego with one important innovation. The kitchen was a dark spot, but Diego suggested knocking a wall, enabling those in the kitchen to look out on the living area which is full of interesting artefacts, including pieces from Argentina.
Diego feels at home here now and he's quick to remind people that the founder of the Argentine navy was Irishman Admiral Brown. "There's a statue of him down in Grand Canal Quay," Diego says. "Actually that's the other thing people say when I say I'm from Argentina - 'Ah, Admiral Brown'."
Now that's a real connection.
Peperina, 25 Dunville Ave, Ranelagh, D6 tel: (01) 534-0018, or see peperina.ie
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